Henry's Fate and Other Poems

Henry's Fate and Other Poems

by John Berryman
     
 

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780374169503
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
04/01/1977
Pages:
112

Read an Excerpt

Henry's Fate & Other Poems, 1967â"1972


By John Berryman

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 1977 Kate Berryman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7955-3



CHAPTER 1

Uncollected Dream Songs


    Canal smell. City that lies on the sea like a cork
    of stone & gold, manifold throng your ghosts
    of murdered & distraught.
    St Mark's remains came here covered with pork,
    stolen from Islam. Freedom & power, the Venetian hosts
    cluttered blue seas where they sought

    the wingèd lion on the conquered gates.
    Doge followed Doge down down, the city floated.
    Vassals drencht maps.
    Fat popes & emperors to the high altar, hates
    soothed into peace here. Nothing went unnoted
    by the Patriarch perhaps

    for a thousand years, when Henry struck his forehead
    over his strange eyes & his monstrous beard
    ah-ing 'This is too much.'
    Canal smell, the Byzantine beauty of the dead,
    with lovers arm in arm by the basin, weird
    to Henry as such.


    Many bore uncomplaining their lives pained
    so long and in such weather. Henry complained.
    All a Venetian June
    the sun raged down on stone & water. Gondoliers slept
    thro' midday on to four. Man was inept
    against the sun, and soon

    humid Henry took boat up the Grand Canal
    where the breeze & the palaces refreshed him, pal,
    palaces bold & demure.
    Churches in dozens chose his attention; closed
    like Rome's some fourteen years ago. He dozed,
    dreaming of the stupendous & impure

    success of men on these islands, hard on men
    but easy now the fabulous city again
    with Stellio in command
    & vino & Scellio at the bar is being good
    to almost prostrate foreigners full of gratitude
    for the power here, brain & hand.


    Legman assman bustman, abominable Henry
    wandered thro' France & Italy agog:
    my God what visible places.
    Everywhere he studied with both his eyes the faces
    of those whose fates were his, like a Sligo bog
    to be cut & burnt, or be

    flourisht amongst great clouds for a long time
    ah next San Marco choiring, who was cut off
    just ere he finisht his work,
    Henry's destiny? He fought it tooth & rime
    country to country, hanging on. When he's had enough
    he'll mount into the dark

    but not (praise Serenissimo) until
    tranquil in Athens to the final touch
    he takes his restless labour.
    O he is not working as at the mill
    nor is he working yet for any neighbour
    save two, whom with the future he counts on much.


    Out of this city musical where Henry is obscure
    in a grand hotel upon a casual canal,
    near Ponte Goldoni,
    he'll stream by train to an international festival
    to perform his tricks, which he can hardly endure
    but then he did agree.

    Then on to London, to perform more tricks.
    Photographers, reporters once again.
    Then the Aegean.
    A busy summer for a solitudinem of men,
    who wisheth pax. The fellow's in a fix
    and he did it all himself.

    O long ago he stretched forth a palm
    open to the world; he's turned it upside down,
    who wisheth pax.
    Tired, a little, Henry opted for Athenian calm
    but he will be sorry to leave this town,
    cat, criminal, fox.


    Henry, staggering, elderly, black, nearly fell off the Acropolis,
    it is so damned old high.
    Visions of the feet of Pericles
    retrieved him, though the Parthenon is empty.
    The statues are all in the National Museum
    and London, etc, & melted down.

    Athene, grace my age with wisdom, please you.
    Let not my cluttered & tragic youth dispel
    my radiant babyhood
    which I may now resume, like peek-a-boo,
    I admit the islands now, like Lesbos, spell
    me silence like food,

    like the strange fish we lately ate, my dear.
    Flesh strong & good, also with mayonnaise
    in Greek.
    Your worship's interrupted, Henry's a mere
    admirer, who do not kneel down & prays
    & who is far to seek.


    His inspiration lost, o'ercast, his Grecian café
    shut for a holiday, he strove to say
    'Hurrah' to his lady cat
    upon her all-returning good birthday
    when she'll be twenty-eight.
    And there is no substitute for that.

    27's too soon, too immature,
    29 verges horribly on 30:
    OW!
    Two lengthy years — will still they see her pure?
    as such things go, in the world, which is so dirty?
    which she will not allow

    but holds her standard to the mountain-top
    which Henry once deserted but no more
    O ho ho ho
    we parleyed in a foul-mouth'd dialogue
    last night: thunders over the high theatre applaud:
    let's knock it off & go back home to the dog.


    Gulls chains voices bells: honey we're home.
    I don't care whether they cremate Henry or not.
    His labour of travel is done
    He came upon some shore one time like foam
    but had to set out again or rot
    with his life on him like a ton.

    Unlike this feverish voyaging where new facts turned up
    hourly, monthly, among stale voyagers
    mostly American
    loud rich & rude & petty, whom God also will call to a stop
    without the languages, bitches without their curs.
    Rats across the Quai Voltaire run, can

    frighten you honey at dusk or an Arab Street:
    we knew that: Henry had the wit to be afraid
    and so my dear love were you.
    The ship bangs in. We relax in defeat,
    stiffen to the new acquaintances to be made
    & the sky over our graves is blue.


    Henry under construction was Henry indeed:
    gigantic cranes faltered under the load,
    spark-showers from the welding played
    with daylight, crew after crew
    replaced each other like Kings, all done anew
    Daily, to the horror of the gathering crowd
    which gazed in a silence of awe or sobbed aloud.

    The structure huge mounted apace. Some sang,
    others in prayer knelt; when the western wing
    was added, one vast sigh
    arose & made its way into the earless sky.
    Lifts were installed, many had their ashes hauled.
    Parents in the throng looked down appalled,

    In the end the mighty roof was hoisted on.
    The event transpired throughout the city at dawn,
    foot upon violent foot
    converged to shining Henry in the risen sun,
    question tormented the multitude one by one
    to see to what use it would now be put.


    Death all endeth, Henry to Sybil saith.
    Sybil regurgitates, no word from her.
    Ah, ah, no word from her.
    Flashing existence seems from her to incur
    a bitter silence, vomit, assent to his death
    black as it must occur.

    Black black black but not at the beginning
    which was when? Ha ha we never remember.
    And in the end we won't.
    Suppose we wake up then a shrivelled cunt:
    we won't.
    At that point too Fall will turn into December.

    December: the noblest. After the pains & glories of the Fall
    dead winter: snow car-high, snow shoulder-high,
    snow cinema-high:
    hope shoulder-high for death:
    no word from her at all.
    Death all endeth, Henry to Sybil saith.


    Jan 68


    Henry scampered, young. Henry doddered old.
    Steps bothered him. Packages in both hands
    unbothered him.
    His figure altered not, he remained slim
    but the memory loss. Persons from other lands
    read him their poems bold,

    demure, in Chinese, Bengali, Spanish, and chanted
    in high Cambodian. Henry was enchanted
    on an Iowa afternoon
    but what did it have to do with his failing life,
    his whisky curse, his problems with his wife,
    when 'Let's have a new tune'

    said Haydn to somebody? He brought his troubles home
    and they were grand, and foreign poetry
    was foreign poetry;
    valiant, but not as brilliant as a comb
    to make him less dishevelled. Old Henry never wept
    but then he never slept.


    Jan 68


    Its source obscure, the river make its way
    all the same seaward, and animals can't count,
    puzzling Henry.
    Some insects can, and birds, and the amount
    of organisms is over a million, say
    the author of these books driving Henry crazy

    with their zooids & their interfascicular cambium.
    Did he after all take the wrong courses?
    How can a man be so ignorant & live?
    He dodged his way in & out of his resources
    which he'd thought many, but numb
    & structured like a sieve

    he addressed hisself to a problem more complex
    (the starter won't start, his lecture will be late)
    : will she or won't she come?
    If not, why so? And if so, will we sex?
    Questions more vexed, absolutely innate,
    worse than their damned interfascicular cambium.


    20 Feb 68


    Long (my dear) ago, when rosaries
    based Henry's vaulting thought, at seven & six,
    Henry perceived in the sky
    your form amidst his stars. He fought to please
    you & God daily. Seldom wicked tricks
    surfaced into his I.

    Malice remained, in this man, moribund
    unto this hour and even at this hour
    it's sleepy & can't bother.
    Let demons do. But evils other conned
    Henry sufficiently to blot or sour
    your forms & the form of Father.

    I was the altar-boy he depended on
    on freezing twilit mornings, after good dreams.
    Since when my dreams have changed.
    Could Father wrong occurred to Henry gone
    fearful, grown. Out of the world of seems
    our death has us estranged.


    20/21 Feb 68 (second) 1:50 a.m.


    O and só tired I cannot cast a shadow.
    It's Bellevue or the Tombs if I'm found out.
    How have I come so far?
    Exploited Henry passed his avatar.
    Unrecognizable Henry hurled a shout
    round the mirrors on the meadow.

    His friend wrote on incomprehensibly,
    the Viet war hottened up horribly,
    Nixon is back in sight.
    Shall willing Henry study art history
    or Number or write letters or test the text
    of The Merry Wives tonight?

    Harmless his present thought as Ross's in
    The Right and The Good: but is his discipline
    necessary?
    The mirrored meadow called all relative,
    he'll take his baby to the circus, he'll live,
    'A drink, no thank you, sorry.'


    1 Mar 68


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Henry's Fate & Other Poems, 1967â"1972 by John Berryman. Copyright © 1977 Kate Berryman. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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